Montgomery’s Mayoral Race

By on 13 July, 2015 in Government, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

IMG_1631Last week, we joined what seemed like a few hundred other interested Montgomery citizens at the first of several forums featuring the candidates who want to be our city’s next mayor. It was a pretty packed house at the Crump Senior Center. The event was sponsored by the East Montgomery Neighborhood Association and the Midtown Montgomery Neighborhood Alliance. If you missed it, we live-tweeted the event, but this post is a recap for anyone interested (and everyone really should be) in the upcoming election. First, a few basics:

The Candidates
The six declared candidates were all present. From left to right (numbers were drawn in advance to determine order), they were Dan Harris, Todd Strange, Jon Da’Voe, Ella Bell, Buena Browder and Artur Davis. Not all of the candidates have websites, but we’ve linked up to the sites we could find or articles about each candidate. Briefly, Harris is the Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission; Strange is our current mayor; Da’Voe is a local activist; Bell is the Vice President of the Alabama State Board of Education; Browder is a retired civil servant; and Davis is a former Congressman.

The Format
Before the forum started, the organizers solicited questions online through neighborhood association email lists, and also from people attending the forum, written on index cards and dropped into a box at a table near the entrance. Each candidate had a few minutes to introduce themselves. Then the moderator asked questions, with every candidate getting two minutes to answer. Over two hours, there were five questions raised. Each candidate got to make a short closing statement.

The Issues
Although the discussion was wide-ranging, it focused on a few key topics that will be familiar to any city resident. Several candidates wanted to focus the debate on improving Montgomery schools, even turning non-education questions into education questions. Economic development was a big issue: One question asked about the future of downtown development, while another asked candidates to share their vision for the old Montgomery Mall. Several candidates focused on the nature and extent of the city’s debt, while there was a consensus that it was important to have well-trained workers and make efforts to bring employers to Montgomery. The talking points were familiar, but the most interesting conversations happened in the nuanced spaces between the time-tested pro-jobs, anti-crime vagaries.

What Happened?
It’s challenging to summarize the whole two-hour discussion, but we left with a few key takeaways. As you might expect in an election with an incumbent, all of the candidates were trying to position themselves as alternatives to Strange, focusing on various criticisms of the status quo. Meanwhile, Strange was very vigorous about defending his record, sprinkling facts and data into his working knowledge of the city’s existing projects. A number of the candidates interested in education reform had specific proposals, including expanding the magnet curriculum to more schools and charter schools. We know that Davis is an advocate for mayoral control of the city school district, but he did not defend (or at least in much detail) this idea at last week’s forum. If you’re new to Montgomery (or just new to paying attention), the public schools in our city are run by the county, meaning that the County Commission and the Superintendent have more control of the schools than the city’s chief executive. Mayor Strange said that it would cost $30 million for the city to start its own school system.

The large number of candidates ensured that the discussion didn’t ever get to drill down into a lot of detail on any one topic. Just as things started to get technical, the two minutes were up and it was time for someone else to talk, frequently kicking the conversation into a new direction. The debate was civil, but Strange and Davis did trade a few barbs. The conventional wisdom suggests that those two are likely frontrunners, but we felt like it might be premature to begin narrowing the field of conversation down to just two.

Looking forward, there are more of these forums to come. The next one is tomorrow night (7:00) at Macedonia Miracle Kingdom and Worship Center, 3070 Selma Highway. There’s also one sponsored by EMERGE on July 28th at AUM (10th floor of AUM library, 6:30). We’ll post a full calendar when we can get our hands on one.

While too many might be tedious, we think it’s best to err on the side of overkill. The more people that participate in local politics, the better off our city will be. People need to feel connected, not just to the candidates, but to the ideas and structures that make our city a great place to live. It ought to be less about the personalities of the candidates and more about the differing visions for how we ought to move forward.

The office of the mayor carries with it substantial power, and the right person with the right vision could be in place to guide our city forward for a long, long time. Each election carries with it a set of consequences, and if you care at all about this city, you’ll get to know the candidates and familiarize yourself with their ideas. Voting isn’t the only way to make our city better, but it’s an important way to engage with the issues that unite us.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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